Cochon 555: Pigging out on pork in Seattle

John Sundstrom at Lark carves up one of his creationsOkay. I think I’ve finally digested all the pork I pigged out on at Cochon 555. With clear head and calm stomach, I’m happy to submit this report.

What a fascinating event! Cochon 555 is in the middle of an ambitious, ten-city tour, with five ambitious chefs cooking five heritage pigs (and five winemakers doing the pouring, hence the “555”) at each stop. Figure brain-to-butt (truly!) preparation of pigs weighing about 75 pounds each—you can do the math. It’s a lot of pork!
 
Given the popularity of pork belly, bacon and other bits of pig, it’s no wonder there was a wonderful turnout for the event, with proceeds benefiting the Neighborhood Farmers Market Alliance and the Good Farmer Fund. I attended as a judge, so I only got a few glimpses of the main event, as I was otherwise in a private tasting room with chefs Jason Franey (Canlis), Chester Gerl (Matt’s in the Market), Joseba Jiménez de Jiménez (Harvest Vine), Ashley Merriman (Branzino) and Adam Stevenson (Earth & Ocean)—along with other esteemed culinary figures rating each plating.
 
Stevenson actually got the pigfest started, serving up skewers of pork for a heritage breed comparison tasting. Despite knowing that I had lots of eating ahead, I couldn’t resist a skewer, thinking of it as an enormous amuse bouche. (I also nibbled at some cheese supplied by DeLaurenti Specialty Market, as well as a little Black River Caviar.)
 
Each of the chefs served up a different pig, provided by Whistling Train, Good, Holthaus, and Newman Farms. Part of the mission of Cochon 555 is to raise awareness about heritage breeds, and after sampling the food, it’s easy to understand that happy pigs are tasty pigs.
 
Really, it was a pork onslaught, with the dishes coming quickly at times. I had an old camera with me in the judging room, scrambling to snap a shot of each dish while listening to the chef describe the preparation and trying to jot down notes. And given the amount of wine you can see on the judges’ table (our glasses didn’t come with little plastic pigs, like the ones the general public enjoyed), the scene became quite chaotic at times.
 
Tamara Murphy of Brasa (is that a halo by her head?) makes some mean pork dishesWhat I do know is that every chef was creative, utilizing as much of the pig as possible, sending us some incredible plates of food. Highlights? John Sundstrom (Lark) prepared a terrific terrine (including head, trotters, and shank brined for two days) with black truffle and star anise flavoring. Tamara Murphy (Brasa, pictured left), a pigtastic chef, arranged an array of dishes, including a piquant, porky chili verde—and we didn’t even get to sample the pork sliders and pig cookies she served the other attendees. Anthony Hubbard (Chow Foods) offered the most dishes, including a shot of pork belly consommé with brain mousse (pictured in gallery).
 
While everyone attending enjoyed a final tasting of porky popcorn and pig blood chocolate courtesy of Xocolatl de David, the sweetest treat of the night was unquestionably Jason Wilson‘s (Crush) smoked bacon macaroon with bacon powder. Melt-in-your-mouth delicious, as was his pork lardo on bread (pictured below).
 
But my favorite dish of the night came from Matt Dillon (Corson Building and Sitka & Spruce): stinging nettle soup, with pork broth poured over raw kidneys and hearts. (I was so drawn in by the soup that I failed to take a photograph!) The nettles were earthy and delicious in the deep, almost double stock (as Dillon described it), and I simply loved the bright, intense taste of the organ meats. (And was I ever surprised to see some of the chefs struggling to eat some of the offal. “You’re missing out on some of the best tastes and textures,” I tried to explain. To no avail.)
 
Dillon’s other dishes dazzled, included fried pork pieces, including some skin, over ora blanco (a pomelo hybrid, like grapefruit), which offered an interesting combination of flavors. And how about a basic bologna sandwich (yes, on white bread) made with mortadella—the original bologna? A revelation! Where was this when I was a child?
 
Jason Wilson\'s plate for the judges (note the smoked bacon macaroon with bacon powder)I had Dillon and Wilson almost deadlocked on my scorecard, but gave the edge to Dillon for more dishes that wowed me. So I was surprised to learn that Hubbard won the “prince of porc” title—and I wasn’t alone. Turns out that the general public made up 51% of the vote, and Hubbard had a lot of fans in the crowd. It was an entirely different outcome in the judges’ room, with some saying that perhaps next time around, there should be a different system—or perhaps separate honors, like “fan favorite” and “professional judge” awards.
 
Regardless, any fan of pork was a winner, though after all this eating, many people said they’d be swearing off pork for at least a few days after the event. Me? I confess: I went out for a huge, roasted pork loin chop just yesterday, and look forward to eating more locally raised pigs in the future. Cochon 555 taught me well.

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